Five Years Old: Part I

Posted by Katherine | March 20, 2008 – 3:46 pm

The Iraq war started five years ago yesterday. Here is one American’s textured experience of it. Jayel Aheram is a 24-year-old active-duty Marine, a blogger, and an avid photographer. He’s also a Ron Paul supporter, so it’s easy to assume he might be against the war, but what he writes about Congressman Paul is this:

I am inspired that he shares the same reverence I have for the Constitution. He and I took similar oaths. I took an oath of enlistment and he took an oath of office. We both swore to protect and defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. And he understands what that means!

This picture, too, is not as straightforward as it might appear:

Soldier with peace sign on his hand
[Jayel Aheram / Flickr]

Aheram says, “Its strength lies in its ambiguity. Is the soldier hoping for peace or does he claim that peace lies in his hand?”

These two photos and what he wrote about them suggest his fondness both for his own country and for certain Iraqis:

Pocket flag
[Jayel Aheram / Flickr]
Iraqi soldier
[Jayel Aheram / Flickr]

Of the flag, he says, “These are called “pocket flags” […] Everyone in my fire team sports these minuscule reminder of what it is we are fighting for.”

He describes the Iraqi soldier, with whom the Marines bartered cigarettes and headwraps, as “a reputable merchant and an honest businessman.” He adds, “We do not trust him… But we like him.” This particular soldier taught him to dance “Iraqi-style.”

Aheram also found beauty — both in his surroundings and in the friends he made — in Iraq. He writes:

I discovered that this desert was not in fact a barren wasteland that I thought and heard it was, but rather the opposite of that. Everywhere I looked where signs of life succeeding amid the shifting sands. The most inspiring of which was a bird with a plume of shocking red feathers. I will admit, it was a bit unnerving to see such a defiant display of color in the middle of this apparent wasteland. It was the opposite of what I was doing. Me, in my desert digital, my tactical tan gear. I was trying to be part of the desert, to blend, to disappear into the endless desert background. But here is a native to this land, who instead of going with its life quietly, invisibly, chose to shatter the eerie silence of the desert with its song and with its bright red plume, defy the overwhelming conformity the desert seems to demand (and got from me). […]

I do not know if it is possible for me to hate a place where the stars are allowed to shine.

Helmet, bullets, and flowers
[Jayel Aheram / Flickr]
Happy Birthday
[Jayel Aheram / Flickr]

The photo on the right is Aheram in Iraq on his 23rd birthday. He says, of that day:

I had the night post last night with Patrick […] I checked the time and became silent as the minutes ticked closer to midnight.

He noticed my sudden silence and turned on his flashlight. As my face was illuminated, he asked, “What is wrong?” I muttered, “It is almost midnight. I will be 23 soon…” He seemed to note the sadness in both my face and my voice. “I have always celebrated my birthday, you know,” I informed him.

I went down from the post to relieve myself, but when I returned, he had placed a matchstick from an MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat) into an Otis-Spunkmeyer cupcake (double chocolate chip). He grinned as he lit the match and started to sing: “Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you…” Once he was done singing, I blew out the flame from the burning matchstick and we split the cupcake between us. He turned off his flashlight and we ate in the dark.

It was the best birthday party I ever had.

Aheram’s full photoset from his 2006-2007 tour in Iraq includes detailed explanations of many of the pictures.


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